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Is Rickie Weeks a bounce-back candidate?

Rickie Weeks continues to be one of fantasy baseball’s most frustrating players. While he was one of the best offensive second baseman in 2010 and 2011, injuries and ineffectiveness have marred his numbers every other season. Weeks did little to silence his critics in 2013, putting up a career-worst .299 wOBA. His struggles couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Scooter Gennett proved to be an intriguing player despite some luck-aided numbers. Weeks will enter his age-31 season at the nadir of his value. Does that make him a buy-low?

A quick look at Weeks’ BABIP might lead some to project a nice rebound for the second baseman. There’s some validity to that notion. Weeks’ .268 BABIP was the lowest of his career, and contributed to a career-low .209/.306/.357 slash line. At the same time, he showed some pretty legitimate issues. Weeks’ awful 26.3% strikeout rate doesn’t provide much confidence that his average will rise above .240 going forward. Since Weeks has always been a low-average hitter, he didn’t have much to give up in this area. His on-base percentage, typically one of his strongest assets, wasn’t useful last year due to his struggles. Even more concerning than his strikeout rate was Weeks’ inability to hit a fastball.

This is the most troubling aspect of Weeks’ value going forward. As a hitter, Weeks has thrived on destroying fastballs. Over his career, Weeks has a 79.0 pitch value against fastballs. The only other pitch he has a positive value against is the changeup. Even during his down 2012, Weeks still was able to post a 5.8 pitch value against fastballs. He completely collapsed in 2013, posting a -5.2 pitch value against fastballs. Power was a huge problem as well. Weeks hit just three home runs on “hard” pitches, according to Brooksbaseball.net. The previous three seasons, Weeks had hit 16, 19 and 19 home runs on “hard” pitches.

This is particularly troubling considering Weeks’ age. It’s certainly plausible that his bat speed is declining. His power numbers against off-speed pitches could confirm this theory. Weeks has never been particularly strong against breaking pitches, but managed to hit five home runs on off-speed pitches in 452 opportunities. In 867 chances in 2012, he hit four home runs. It doesn’t look like Weeks improved against breaking balls at age-30, and could instead be linked to having a slower bat. Instead of mashing fastballs, Weeks may have declined to having a slider-speed bat. Now, it could just be that Weeks had an off year, but the threat of a declining bat speed becomes a threat considering his age.

On top of that, Gennett should have a role next season. There’s already been talk that he’s ahead of Weeks on the team’s depth chart. Given his age and declining numbers, Weeks isn’t going to cost a high draft pick even in a full-time role. While that might make him a decent late-round pick, there’s enough here to be concerned about his ability to produce moving forward. There’s little risk in taking a shot on him late, but he’s not going to deliver on that promise unless he figures out how to hit fastballs again.